Iran Denies Influence on Hizbollah
President Mohammed Khatami said Sunday that Iran had no influence on Hizbollah, implying that it would not try to coax the Lebanese militant group to release four Israeli captives.
"Hizbollah is a Lebanese and Arab movement on which Iran exercises no influence," Khatami said.
But he said Iran was supportive of Hizbollah, calling it a "symbol of resistance to occupation" that has made "many sacrifices."
Khatami was speaking at a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, whose country, along with France, has been asked by the United States to push Iran to use its influence on Hizbollah to free the four Israelis.
Hizbollah, formed with Iranian help in the 1980s to fight Israel's then occupation of south Lebanon, snatched three Israeli soldiers October 7 as they patrolled the border in the disputed Shabaa Farms region.
The group later claimed to have captured a fourth Israeli who they said was an intelligence agent trying to infiltrate Hizbollah. The movement has said it is willing to swap the captives for Arabs held in Israeli jails.
Khatami did not say whether Aznar raised the captives issue during their meeting Sunday but acknowledged that Iran and Spain had "different positions" on the Palestinian question, although both wanted "a just peace."
Iran wants "a lasting peace that takes into consideration the rights of all Palestinians, both inside and outside" the Palestinian territories, Khatami said.
"What is going on there now must be a lesson to everyone as it shows an explosion of anger by a people that has been held back for 50 years," Khatami said, adding that Israel has killed "more than 100 martyrs ... with incredible savagery."
Aznar did not discuss the captives issue to reporters but said he was "very happy" with his first meetings with Khatami and said he invited the president to visit Madrid.
Aznar will meet later Sunday with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran has not recognized Israel since the 1979 Islamic revolution and is strongly opposed to the US-brokered peace process.
Tehran has called for the abolition of the Jewish state, a return of all Palestinian refugees and a "referendum on the future of Palestine." – TEHRAN (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)